PTP’ers Who Could Become PTP’ers

We’ve talked in the past about how important playing time is and obviously it is ideal to roster as many starting players as possible. But sometimes a player is worthy of a starting role and simply has a roadblock or two in his way. Maybe he is a young player with a veteran in front of him. Maybe he is new on the scene so there may still be a question of sustainability. Maybe his team is just deep and can’t get all the good players in all the time. Or maybe his team is just too dumb to play the better player.

Regardless the reason, these guys still have value because talent always wins out in the end. As Ron Shandler says, “draft skills, not roles”; we prefer a starter, but we aren’t afraid of highly skilled backups. After all, this is why guys like Kris Bryant get drafted so highly. He wasn’t even in the majors to start the season, but his talent – even knowing at least two weeks were out of the picture entirely – was too much to pass up. That’s the extreme end, of course, as his insertion into the Cubs lineup was a “when” not “if”.

Today, we’re going to look at some guys who fit into both camps. Some are just biding their time in this reserve role while others aren’t guaranteed to find steady playing time regardless of performance unless an injury (or trade, though it’s early to start banking on that) occurs. But the talent of these part-time players suggests they could become prime-time players if given the chance.

CATCHER

A.J. Pierzynski, ATL – By its nature, the position is loaded with backups who are logging somewhat regular time because catchers just can’t play every day. Some teams run a 60/40 split while others are running a sick 97/3 split (cool life, Royals). Pierzynski has logged more playing time in the Atlanta tandem, but based on performance he is probably being underused.

He appeared to be toast last year as a 37-year old with a 72 wRC+ in 362 PA (w/5 HRs). So far this year he has a 119 in 82 PA with three homers already. He likely won’t maintain this level even though he is just a couple years from an identical mark (2012), but even a 2013 repeat would be a boon: .272 AVG, 17 HRs, 70 RBIs in 529 PA. Christian Bethancourt’s ineptitude with the bat has mitigated any potential defensive upside he could offer.

Pierzynski is in the midst of a cool-down period (4-for-29 in May), but he was hitting .442/.442/.689 through April. He should be around a .710 OPS catcher with a modicum of power the rest of the way and his playing time share could increase.

FIRST BASE

Kyle Blanks, TEX – Everyone reading this and even everyone not reading this has rostered Blanks at some point. He has only been around since 2009, but he has still found a way to make it on everyone’s roster at least once. And yet despite that, he has just 917 career plate appearances. The worst part about his residence on every single roster ever at some point is the fact that we were all buying potential. That’s what the proverbial “light tower power” does for you, though.

It’s only been about 1.7 seasons worth of work, but he’s got 20 HR-per-162-games average and many believe he could deliver upwards of 30 over a full season if he could ever stay healthy to get into a full season groove. Unfortunately injuries have ravaged Blanks’ career with six DL stints including a Tommy John surgery. He’s upright, he’s been healthy all year, but the return of Mitch Moreland puts his playing time in peril.

He will also remain an injury risk forever, but his kind of power is too enticing to overlook while on the field. Hell, we couldn’t overlook it when he wasn’t on the field. As a righty who has had some considerable success against lefties in the past, he could be easily slotted into the short side of a platoon, but he isn’t a complete dud against righties so he could still secure a more full-time role – even if it comes via trade.

SECOND BASE

Aaron Hill, ARI – A disappointment last year, Hill barely managed to replicate his 2013 line in 1.5 the playing time and even fell a homer short with 10. He was great in those 87 games from 2013 and had a tremendous 156-game campaign in 2012 so expectations were reasonably high last year. The busted season killed his fantasy value, but it seems the burial was premature.

He’s off to a strong start with a .282 AVG, 3 HRs, and 11 RBIs in 84 PA with 13 runs scored in a surprisingly solid Diamondbacks offense. Chris Ownings has shown flashes and definitely has a future, but he hasn’t established himself as someone who needs to be played every single day just yet. Even if he does, Nick Ahmed (12 wRC+) has been a disaster so Owings could slide back over and open up more playing time for Hill. Yasmany Tomas is similar yet on a lower level. It’s been a punchless .276 AVG (see also: .310 SLG) which is why we’ve seen 13 games at 3B for Hill.

The wheels might be done at 33. After 14 SBs in 2012, he’s 6-for-13 in 987 PA, but a 20-HR bat in the middle infield with the potential for plus AVG and plus runs scored is really valuable.

Matt Duffy, SF – Duffy was never a heralded prospect as a college pick from the 18th round, but he just hit his way up. Speed is probably his best asset (25 and 20 SBs the last two seasons, respectively), but it’s not a completely empty bat. He can do a bit of everything while playing literally everywhere on the infield – he has logged games at third (13), second (6), short (2), and first (1).

His best avenue to consistent playing time is Casey McGehee. A .212 BABIP says McGehee can’t stay this bad, but is his upside really higher than Duffy’s even if he gets back on track? There was a two-point separation between McGehee’s OBP and SLG last year.

SHORTSTOP

Jung-Ho Kang, PIT – Kang’s huge 2014 season in the KBO (.356/.459/.739 w/40 HRs, 117 RBIs, and 103 Rs) put him on the map. Then he got the Dan Farnsworth treatment and his fantasy stock started to rise. Jordy Mercer was pretty solid last year, delivering enough plus value with the glove to log 555 PA and pop 12 HR, which clouded Kang’s playing time outlook in the short-term.

After 33 games, the outlook is starting to look more positive for Kang. Mercer is completely flopping with a putrid .188/.245/.218 line and his 24% hard-hit rate is 31st worst among 181 qualified bats. Meanwhile, Kang is showing the power that enticing us in the first place. Six of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases yielding a .182 ISO with a couple of bombs in 61 PA. The ISO slots fifth among shortstops with at least as many PA as Kang. The real factor is whether or not they trust his defense enough to play him regularly.

They rely a lot on stellar defense to maximize their pitching staff so if they see Mercer as a substantial upgrade over Kang, he could be squeezed even if he keeps hitting well. Kang has played eight of his 17 games at third base and Josh Harrison has been almost as terrible as Mercer, but they’re invested in him (three years left, two team options) so Harrison will play. Kang’s route to being a starter is through shortstop.

THIRD BASE

Alex Guerrero, LAD – Unsurprisingly, he was one of the impetuses (impetii?) for this piece. He is tied for the eighth-highest homer total (several ties, obviously) in just 56 PA. The next lowest PA total with at least six homers is Chris Young at 86. He won’t keep up the 33% HR/FB rate, but there is a lot of room between his current level and mixed-league fantasy viability. He can cool way down and still be a beast.

The 28-year old Cuban import might’ve made an impact last year if Miguel Olivo hadn’t bitten his ear off. He was toting a .978 OPS in Triple-A with 15 HRs. Even accounting for the inflated hitter’s environment, he was still showing the power that earned him a 4-year/$28 million dollar deal in the first place. He came up as a middle infielder in Cuba, but has been slotted into a 3B/OF role with the Dodgers.

The outfield is still packed despite injuries to both Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig thanks to the resurgence of Andre Ethier. Joc Pederson is delivering on his promise and then some while Scott Van Slyke continues to rake every chance he gets yet can’t get regular burn (more on him later). Third base has been blocked off by Juan Uribe, one of the team’s leaders.

That clubhouse presence has earned him some leeway, but the more Guerrero rakes and the more Uribe is subpar, the less that presence off the field will matter for keeping Uribe on the field. Guerrero is new on the scene, but he’s not young. The 28-year old is experienced and seems to poised to continue the trend of high quality arrivals from Cuba even though some were starting to see him as a wasted contract.

OUTFIELD

Scott Van Slyke, LAD – How many teams would kill for the Dodgers’ bench? I could squeeze Justin Turner onto this list, too, but I don’t see high impact out of Turner even if he had a full-time role. Last year a .404 BABIP drove his AVG and this year a 24% HR/FB rate is driving his power. Anyway, the matter at hand is Van Slyke. Like Turner, he also beasted last year (11 HR, 160 wRC+ in 246 PA) and while he too rode a high BABIP (.394) there is still plenty to like about him. His reputation as only a lefty-masher is completely unearned and a bit mind-boggling to me.

Maybe he showed a deficiency against righties on his way up through the minors, but he hasn’t any sort of alarming platoon split in his MLB work. It’s only been 514 total PA over four years, but his .800 OPS in the 266 v. RHP suggests he being underused as a part-timer. He is once again riding high with a .386 BABIP, but it’s a little more believable when you’re crushing the ball (52% Hard-Hit rate is 2nd-best among batters w/at least 59 PA). That will come down with time, but if the strikeout gains (down from 29% to 14% K rate) are even somewhat real, then his AVG ceiling jumps even with the requisite BABIP regression.

He’d be starting on a lot of the other 29 clubs, but even a rash of OF injuries hasn’t earned him a full-time role just yet. Yasiel Puig will eventually return and of course he and Joc Pederson are the guarantees. Usually you’d think SVS could trump Andre Ethier, but Ethier’s resurgence has been impressive and you understand the Dodgers riding it for all its worth at $18mil/year. I’m still not sure anyone would trade for Ethier, either, so maybe it’s who is dealt out for pitching reinforcements?

He looks like a mid-20s HR per season kind of player with a .275ish AVG, again assuming the strikeout drop is at least somewhat real (if he’s more 20-22% than 26-29%), but even if the Ks return he can hit .250-something with pop.

Will Venable, SD – The revamped Padres OF left them with a OF worth of guys on the bench with Venable, Cameron Maybin, and Carlos Quentin. They handled Maybin and Q in the Kimbrel trade (and Q then retired), but they’re still left with Venable on the bench and unlikely to crack the lineup without an injury. Justin Upton and Wil Myers have been excellent and while Matt Kemp has cooled after a strong start, he isn’t about to be benched for Venable.

We’ve seen Venable be a really strong fantasy asset back in 2013 when he went 22 HR/22 SB with .268 AVG in 515 PA. That put him on the radar for many last year, but he fell well short of expectations with an 8/11 season (and .224 AVG) in 448 PA. It’s only been 50 PA, but he’s looking more like the 2013 version so far. Some wrist soreness for Myers might open a short-term opportunity for Venable, but without a long-term injury (which we’re not hoping for at all) he’ll need a trade to become a full-timer again. With A.J. Preller, that seems to be a matter of “when” not “if”.

If I’m trying to put a number on it, I’d say two of these eight become legitimate full-timers that change the course of the fantasy landscape as major contributors. Picking which two is the tough part, but if I had to rank them it’d be:

Guerrero, Kang, Hill, Van Slyke, Blanks, Venable, Duffy, and then Pierzynski, who was really only included because I wanted someone at every position even though catcher isn’t really conducive to this kind of exercise.

Remember, playing time is king, but skills are still queen and the queen can move anywhere she wants on the board… crap, I lost whatever analogy I was going for there. Anyway, of course we’d prefer guys who are playing all the time, but identifying guys who could become the next everyday players is where you can strike it rich in-season.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Tuscan Chicken
7 years ago

Was Bourjos considered for this list?

Russ
7 years ago
Reply to  Tuscan Chicken

I was wondering the same. Was on the verge of cutting him before Jay got hurt and Bourjos finally got playing time and started hitting